How One Designer Turned Her Passion Project Into A Full-time Gig

Abigail Chapin is a woman of many talents. When she’s not crafting heavenly harmonies with her band The Chapin Sisters, touring with She & Him, or styling for the likes of Teen Vogue, Abigail can be found in her East L.A. studio hand-dying clutches for her new line, ARC of LA. Her hobby of silk-screening and tie-dying is quickly turning into a full-time gig, with her goods selling out at cool boutiques like Iko Iko and TenOverSix in L.A. Plus, she’s expanding into jewelry design that will be made from leftover materials from the production of her clutches. We’re not only big fans of her bags, but also of her DIY-entrepreneurial spirit, so we sat down with Abigail to learn a bit more about her business and the way she balances her creative endeavors, and to snap some behind-the-scenes pics of her inspiring SoCal studio.

The Chalkboard Mag: Tell us a little bit about how you got the inspiration to do ARC of LA.
Abigail Chapin: The whole project started as an experiment in surface pattern design. I had been on tour with my band for most of a year, and before that my sister and I had been on the road singing backups in She & Him for a year, so when I had a stretch of time at home I was itching to spread out and make physical things. I have always been interested in textile pattern design, and had been experimenting for years with silkscreen, fabric-painting techniques and resist dyeing (tie-dye and batik). This summer I started fooling around with some block printing supplies I had bought years before, and immediately was drawn to the entire process. I love how tactile carving the blocks is, and how each time I paint the block and print it the result is slightly different. I started printing on hand-dyed canvas, and made some bags as gifts for my sisters and a couple friends. When I went to buy more canvas I stopped at a wall of leather hides and bought a couple as experiments.

TCM: How did you go about starting your business?
AC: My friend Kristin Dickson owns the beautiful and inspirational store Iko Iko, which used to be a block away from my house in Echo Park. I showed her what I was working on and she bought some to sell in her store. When the ones she had sold quickly I decided I was on to something. In August, my friends and fellow craftswomen Beatrice Valenzuela and Rachel Craven invited me to be part of their biannual Angelino Heights Craft Fair, so I ramped up my production (home dyeing, printing and sewing) to have enough for my booth. Since then, I started a web store and website, and have started wholesaling to a few stores, all of which I am so proud and excited to be in.

TCM: Tell us about the materials you use.
AC: Mostly my bags are cowhide, which I now buy from a local L.A. company called United Leather. I line them with hand tie-dyed cotton. The only down-side of leather, besides the question of using animal products at all, is the waste inherent with the shape of the hides, so I’m working on a jewelry line with the scraps. I also make canvas bags in the same shapes as the leather ones.

TCM: Where do you design and produce the bags?
AC: In my apartment in Echo Park!

TCM: How do you balance running a small company and The Chapin Sisters?
AC: Since the Chapin Sisters had an extremely busy two years, we spent the fall taking a break from touring to write our new album. Once we start touring again it will no doubt be more difficult to balance the two, but for now the combination has been really good, since writing music is very heady work, it’s great to break it up by doing something with my hands.

TCM: What was your experience selling at small design markets? 
AC: I have found designer markets extremely inspirational. It’s amazing to meet other people who are making a living through their handwork skills. I have always been a fan of craft fairs, but it seems like for the last 30 years they were the domain of older people, ex-hippie types, and there is a specific aesthetic that goes with that (which I happen to love but many people don’t). I think that now we are living in a time when the world is starting to once again appreciate one-of-a-kind handmade things, and young, original, forward-thinking artists are thriving.

TCM: Where can we get ARC of LA?
AC: In Los Angeles, I sell at TENOVERSIX, and have a collaborative line with Iko Iko that is sold only at Iko Iko. In San Francisco, I’m in General Store; and in New York, I’m in Beautiful Dreamers in Brooklyn; and my mother’s store, Abigail Rose and Lily Too, in Piermont, New York, where I grew up. I also have a web store through bigcartel.

TCM: For people who want to turn their passion/hobby into a business, do you have any tips or wisdom you can share?
AC: My business is very new, but I’m learning as I go to stick with my strengths, and not to diversify too much too quickly. When you find something that works and piques people’s interest, stick with it!

TCM: What’s next for ARC of LA?
AC: For a while at least, while I’m going to keep the name, it’s going to be a misnomer because I’m spending the spring on the East Coast. I am also working on a collaboration with Ashley Thayer’s line Maricolous which is amazing one-of-a-kind hand-dyed textiles. We’re going to do a joint line of bags and scarves that we make together.

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